Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has fined Central Highlands Region Water Corporation (CHW) $7,773 following a sewage leak that created an Environmental Hazard in contravention of the Environment Protection Act 1970 at a Miners Rest wetland.
A member of the community noticed a foul odour in a stormwater retention wetland on the Western Freeway at Miners Rest near Ballarat and notified EPA who then alerted CHW.
CHW confirmed in March 2017 that raw sewage had been leaking from a rising main pipe, and that it could have been going on for some time.
Water sampling of the wetland by EPA confirmed that E.coli levels were very high. EPA considers that a spill of that magnitude over a prolonged period would have caused an environmental hazard and so was a contravention of the Environment Protection Act 1970.
Following notification, CHW took remedial action including removing contaminated water, notifying the public through local media and erecting warning signs. Water in the wetland was also aerated for several weeks to reduce the bacteria levels.
Testing continued through March and April to ensure water had returned to an acceptable quality both at the location and downstream and the effects from the spill are no longer being seen in the wetlands.
EPA issued CHW with a Pollution Abatement Notice requiring them to install monitoring equipment at the rising main to detect any future leaks.
“It is estimated that the sewage was leaking from the rising main for over a month,” said South West Acting Manager Alison Muscroft.
“Raw sewage is likely to cause an environmental hazard when spilt into a waterway. In this instance, the wetland has environmental significance overlays for watercourse protection.
“Although the rising main was not damaged intentionally the consequences of not knowing if a pipe is ruptured for an extended period can cause significant impact on the environment and our waterways.
“EPA expects duty holders such as CHW to have systems and processes in place so that they know the condition of their assets and to ensure their integrity is maintained,” she said.
Ms Muscroft said if anyone suspected pollution they are encouraged to call EPA’s Pollution Hotline on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC). If you have health concerns related to this incident you should call your doctor or health professional.